When any company evolves, cultural shifts take place throughout the organization. These changes often happen gradually as an organization matures, rather than as the result of thoughtful and intentional action.
However, culture shifts can also be the result of deliberate or sudden changes, such as a change in leadership, merger, or acquisition. These circumstances present internal challenges as processes are updated, and everyone’s flexibility, patience, and adaptability are tested.
What is org culture?
While the exact definition of organizational or company culture varies between organizations, the most common interpretation is that it represents an organization’s beliefs, values, processes, and expectations. Org culture is made up of many different components, from organizational structure to dress code to PTO policy and beyond.
It’s not solely about employee relations, either. Org culture also encompasses the way the organization chooses to interact with customers, and even the community at large.
Such a large concept with so many components might feel abstract, but it has tangible consequences, so it pays for every company to maintain an awareness of their org culture.
Why is organizational culture important?
First, org culture matters because it’s a reliable way to attract and retain talent. When people talk about the “kind of organization” they want to work for, they’re more than likely referring to org culture. Hiring candidates with culture fit in mind reduces turnover, increases employee satisfaction, and can even turn employees into ambassadors for your company.
Org culture also impacts productivity and everyday operations. Are the employees competitive? Laid back? Is the organizational structure siloed and hierarchical, or more collaborative? These factors determine how work gets done on a daily basis (and how happy employees are when they do it).
Whether you’re simply looking to be more intentional to your organization’s culture, or you’re preparing to go through a sudden structural change, a culture shift can be difficult to navigate.
That’s why we’ve assembled 10 tips from top executives and HR experts on how to better implement organizational culture change.
1. Focus on a specific problem and how it affects culture.
Edgar Schein (@EdgarHSchein) is a Professor Emeritus at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and an expert on workplace culture and organizational culture theory. He says that too often, organizations focus on the big picture of culture change without identifying the individual components. Culture can’t be changed directly — first you have to change the smaller parts that constitute it.
2. Embrace the potential of microcultures.
Even if some people in your organization are resistant to change, it doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Individual departments all have their own microcultures, and improvements can still happen on that level.
Michael Hyatt (@MichaelHyatt), founder and CEO of Michael Hyatt & Company says, “Even if the people above you won’t change, you can change the culture of your department, division, or operating unit.”
3. Determine what you want to retain.
Chances are, certain aspects of your organization’s culture work well. Before undergoing a culture shift, assess your current culture and select facets that you want to keep. This is particularly important in the case of acquisitions and mergers, according to former HR Magazine editor Christina Folz (@MsEditor).
4. Be patient.
For some, change is unsettling and stressful. The HR experts at Management Study Guide caution that employees need time to adjust to culture shifts, no matter how small. Be flexible within reason, and listen to employee concerns as everyone acclimates. Most importantly, make sure all employees understand the reasoning behind culture changes — they’ll adapt much more easily to changes that make sense.
5. Lead by example.
No one will take a culture shift seriously if managers and executives aren’t on board. To ensure consistency of values and behavior across the entire organization, Pomegranate Group founder Renee Baiorunos (@Renee_C_B) recommends designating “culture champions” within your organization, preferably at the leadership level.
6. Small changes add up.
Culture change doesn’t have to mean a sweeping overhaul of the employee handbook. It can start with much smaller changes, like giving employees the chance to meet face-to-face with leadership.
Independent Consultant at emagence Carsten Tams (@carsten_tams) argues that subtly influencing people into performing desired behavior, also known as “nudging,” can be a great tool for organizations undergoing a culture shift.
7. Changing technology means changing culture.
Particularly for long-established organizations, the adoption of technology requires major culture shifts. Even at newer companies, technology is constantly evolving, and there’s never-ending pressure to optimize digital workflows with new platforms and software. Remember that these changes require time and patience from everyone involved.
As Cimpress CTO Maarten Wensveen (@maartenwensveen) puts it, “Proper digital transformation is more than a technology problem; it's a cultural one that touches every part of the company.”
8. The CEO should embody company culture.
Ken Lochiatto, CEO of Convergint, believes CEOs are largely responsible for company culture. “Culture isn’t something you delegate to HR or someone else at the firm,” Lochiatto says in a Forbes interview. “The CEO is the primary person responsible for maintaining culture.”
Transparency and communication are vital when an organization is undergoing substantial change. The organization’s key decision-makers should communicate clearly and often with employees in order to keep their trust.
“If you think your employees don't know about a pending organizational change, a series of layoffs, or a merger or acquisition, think again,” writes Gillott Communications President Eden Gillott (@CrisisPRguys). “Your employees are alert to clues, and the rumor mill never sleeps.”
10. Culture isn't fixed.
Culture is dynamic, and shifts along with changes in the workplace. “An organization [is] a living culture… that can adapt to the reality as fast as possible,” says Abdi Osman Jama, author of Lead Like a Lion and senior management consultant at Pertec Consulting.
Changing organizational culture is less of a straight line from point A to point B, and more of a gradual, fluid shift. Learn more about how TINYpulse helps facilitate smooth, successful organizational change by requesting a free demo.